Preemptive Strike Against Monsters is a Winner

The attractive Sunnyvale neighborhood of Fairwood is largely intact, and neighbors are uniting to ensure it stays that way. This home is on Devonshire Way, part of a single-story zone that may be created by the City Council. Photos by Dave Weinstein

Eichler owners in “a cohesive residential neighborhood block consisting of 35 single-story homes and one two-story home,” in the words of city planners, are on their way to preventing any more two-story homes from marring their streetscape or their lives.

And they are doing it even though there is no proposal for a monster home in sight.

In mid-March the Sunnyvale Planning Commission unanimously backed creating a zoning district to ban two-story homes or second-story additions for a two-block section of the Fairwood neighborhood. Final decision is up to the City Council. Approval is expected.

“We thought, let’s get this put into place before we’re actually fighting a situation like a two story, or a development down the road,” says Martyn Griffiths, one of three neighbors who led the charge to create a “single-story combining district.”

The effort began in October.

“The planning commission members were unanimous in commending us for doing it preemptively,” Griffiths says. “They said it is unusual for a planning application [of this sort] not to be done under duress. They commended us for being farsighted about this. They were very encouraging about preserving Eichlers.”

“As they pointed out, it’s very much up to neighbors themselves to protect their neighborhoods.”

The proposed overlay zone would only cover two blocks in a much larger neighborhood. Several other areas may also get overlays -- if they are inspired by the success on Dartshire and Devonshire.

The district would protect Eichlers on Dartshire and Devonshire ways between Flicker and Kingfisher ways. Neighbors focused on a small area, he says, because “when we started, we weren’t sure what the support was likely to be.”

Dartshire-Devonshire is part of a larger and largely intact neighborhood, Fairwood and Fairwood Addition, that makes up between 150 to 200 Eichler homes.

Not only did they need support of more than half the homeowners (in fact, they won 72 percent, and no one spoke publically against the proposal), they also had to pay a fee of $143 per house -- $5,166.

“The bigger the area,” Griffiths notes, “the bigger the filing fee.” He says the fee is justified, based on the amount of work required to be done by the city.

“It was very much door to door," Griffiths says of the campaign, which he ran with Stephanie Allen  and Kazuhisa Ohta. “I had written a little screed about the rationale for doing it. We asked people to sign [a petition], and [asked], ‘Would you like to pay $143?’”

“We didn’t put any pressure on anybody to pay,” Griffiths says, because some proponents of the overlay were willing to make up any shortfall.

Devonshire Way presents an harmonious streetscape that looks much as it did in the early 1960s.

The neighbors wrote to the city that “a second-story addition would be devastating for those close to such modifications. The impact could be multifold—intrusion on privacy, reduction in natural lighting, reduction in potential or actual solar power generation, and aesthetic degradation of our neighborhood.”

“According to discussions with realtors who focus on Eichler home sales,” the missive said, “a [second-story overlay]  would be attractive to prospective Eichler buyers, as most are drawn to the uniqueness of these home designs and want to preserve it. As such, we believe a [zone] would enhance our neighborhood’s home values.”

Sunnyvale already provides more protection for its Eichlers than many cities, having adopted seven years ago their 'Eichler Design Guidelines.' But, the city’s principal planner Gerri Caruso says, “The design guidelines don’t prohibit a two-story home. In fact, they provide guidelines for developing a two-story homes that are compatible with Eichlers.”

Although the neighborhood faced no immediate threat, there was concern focusing on one ill-treated Eichler home that has been vacant. “Our fear is it could be a teardown, and what’s going to happen once it is torn own?” Griffiths says.

Two story
A handful of two-story additions are scattered throughout Fairwood. This one is on Devonshire.

Griffiths believes that neighbors who declined to support the petition were more apathetic than opposed to the plan. One or two did remark, when supporters were canvassing, that they just might, one day, consider a second-story addition. “But I don’t think they didn’t sign because of that,” he says.

Under the proposed districts, homes could not go higher than 17 feet (versus 30 in the current zoning. The existing two-story home could remain and can be repaired and maintained – but couldn’t go any higher.

Elsewhere in Sunnyvale, which is in the heart of Silicon Valley where land values are soaring and high techies freely spending, other Eichler neighborhoods have faced two-story threats.

But, as in Palo Alto, neighborhoods are helping each other face the danger.

Griffiths says the Fairwood effort was aided by Suzanne and Pat Shea, who fought off a two-story menace years ago in another Eichler neighborhood. The Sheas met with folks in Fairwood to share their experience.

In turn, the promised success in Dartshire-Devonshire is spurring on nearby neighbors, both in Fairwood and nearby Fairbrae. Some of these neighbors attended an informational meeting put on by planner Gerri Caruso about the Dartshire-Devonshire effort.

This beautiful Eichler home on Kingfisher Way is alongside the potentially protected area but is not part of it.

In Fairbrae, some neighbors want to establish an overlay zone too – but they didn’t get on it until a threat was all too real. They are facing a proposal for an Eichler replacement home that would be twice the size of its neighbors, says Erik Petersen, who grew up in the neighborhood and lives within sight of the proposed project.

“The neighbors are having a fit. The scale of it is so outrageous,” he says. The design of the new home, by a well-regarded modern architect, is fine, he says. But the location is wrong. “This new house is a cargo ship,” Petersen says, referring to its size, “and the rest of the houses are rowboats.”

Petersen says a section of the neighborhood, about 60 homes of about 200 Eichlers in total, has gotten support from three-quarters of residents and plans to seek single-story zoning too.

Griffiths is happy to see other Eichler neighborhoods taking inspiration from Dartshire-Devonshire. “It could be contagious, what we’re doing," Griffiths says.

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